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How can I as a foreign national get hold of a prepaid (tourist) SIM card with a Chinese phone number in Shenzhen, China?

I am looking for a near mainland-Chinese equivalent of obtaining one from a convenience store in Hong Kong. I understand that in mainland China any phone number will have to be tied to a personal id, so it may be necessary for me to visit a post office, or similar, for passport and/or visa control.

I'd be interested both in the procedure as such and in a concrete venue close to Luohu (or another major) metro station in town.

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    I don't know whether the requirements have changed, but in 2013 I was able to get a prepaid SIM from a random convenience store in Shanghai with no trouble at all (no need to show ID). – Greg Hewgill Oct 31 '18 at 23:50
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So today I walked a bit through Shenzhen from the Louhu border station. (What a mixed experience!) I was first passing through Jianshe Hu and then through Shen Nan Da Dao towards KK100 and then a bit further. Every building I entered (except for one three-story book store) turned out to be a huge luxury shopping mall (such as MIXC, for example). I then turned into the quadrant south-east of the two roads. There I asked in a few convenience stores (e.g. 7-Elevens) and a few cellphone stores (some of them marked with big China Mobile banners). None seemed to offer the China Mobile 188元 plan that I originally wanted. At one cellphone store I was offered a SIM card from China Unicom.

Back at the station I finally decided on obtaining a China Unicom SIM card from what looked like their official store in the passage area. There was a line of Chinese clients ahead of me and one had to draw a ticket. The sales agent spoke English well, first inserted his own SIM card into my phone to confirm that it was indeed unlocked, and checked that the solution was working before he charged me. He took digital pictures of every client twice (once with SIM card in hand :-) and yes, he did also require ids (such as my passport; that might not have been necessary at the other earlier venue, who knows?)

So I now own a 100元 prepaid SIM card with a +86 number and will try it further inland during next week. I hope China Unicom's apparently a bit smaller coverage in comparison to China Mobile's will not become an issue there.

  • In my opinion the coverage of China Unicom should never be a problem for almost all users. I have never been to rural, though. – Blaszard Nov 2 '18 at 18:01
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On 8th Aug 2019, I bought a China Unicom prepaid data SIM card at Lo Wu Shenzhen Border. It cost me RMB200 for the SIM card while getting a usage credit of RMB100. The phone number was +86. I used a non-PRC passport to register. This package automatically deducts RMB6 for 800MB, which was the data usage incurred on that day. If there's no data usage incurred, it will not deduct any amount. You can even choose a different data package, if you want to. For example, 7 days 14GB for RMB20 or 10GB for RMB for 30 days. Apart from that, every month it will automatically deduct RMB6 as the monthly subscription, despite this being a prepaid SIM card. The shop keeper told us that, if there was no money available in the main account, the card will be automatically expired and unusable. You can find this China Unicom shop right after you go through Lu Wu immigration. As it is just outside of immigration, you can even purchase it even though you are not traveling from Hong Kong to Lo Wu. All you need to do is just walk to the exit of immigration.

I heard that you can purchase a SIM card at the Baiyun Airport Guangzhou. So, when I fly out from Baiyun Airport Guangzhou, I went to the arrival hall to check it out. Indeed, you can purchase a SIM card after you get your luggage and outside the place where you get your bag. The price is the same RMB180 for the SIM card with RMB100 credit. It comes with 3GB data. Will automatically deduct RMB19 per month as your subscription.

When I need to use Facebook & other blocked apps, I just use a VPN. However, a lot of apps in China are tagged to China Mobile.

Although this SIM card is expensive, it's very useful. I would not be able to purchase one if I were in a smaller location in China. From past experience, I was only able to get the SIM card at the airport or border of immigration. The best price was still from Lo Wu, where the monthly deduction was only RMB6. To keep the SIM card active, all you need to do is top up the account to enough to cover the monthly deductions and let it automatically deduct until your next visit to China.


Note: I've previously posted this information on a couple of other sites.

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The prepaid data sim card wiki on fandom.com has them all: Prepaid Data SIM Card Wiki

Including the ones you can buy in Hong Kong.

nb. it says "data" but for China it doesn't really make a difference.

You might want to get a Wechat account with wallet for easy topup btw.

  • How do you get a Wechat account as a foreign national? Don't you need an invitation from within the network? – Drux Sep 26 at 2:43
  • You only need a mobile phone number. For the wallet, you AFAIK need a credit card (not debit). A Chinese bank account would of course work too. – life-on-mars Sep 26 at 10:01

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